Ep. 136: David Shar - Managing Burnout
Welcome back to Count Me In,
IMA's podcast about all things affecting
the accounting and finance world.
I'm your host Mitch Roshong and
this is episode 136 of our series.
Many would describe the global business
environment over the last year and a
half as rather turbulent. From
accelerated growth due to technology,
followed by the effects of COVID-19,
burnout has become a very common
theme in the workplace. David Shar,
business psychology expert,
and founder of Illuminate PMC joins
us to talk about what businesses and
people can do to avoid burnout and
find real meaning in their work.
Keep listening as we head
over to the conversation now.
So David, thanks so much for coming on.
Burnout is a word that I've
been hearing a lot lately,
especially with people coming on the
other side of the pandemic and coming out
of their homes a little bit more,
but so many people have been stuck in
front of computer screens in their homes
for so long. Can you just kind
of talk about what is burnout?
Yeah. First of all, thank you
so much for having me Adam. So
burnout is definitely becoming
a little bit more of a
popular topic. Fortunate for me,
unfortunate for everyone,
I guess. And it is,
becoming more and more universal,
especially with what everyone has
gone through and were not done,
like you said,
as we are now leaving our homes
and going back to work and,
many of us will be teleworking
and be on fully virtual teams,
but whatever that means going on to that,
and I know it's a horrible
term because it's used so much,
but to that new normal,
we're not out of the
weeds yet. This is when,
we're all going to have to start
to really cope with what we've
gone through and burnout
by definition is typically
defined as having
three pieces to it.
The first one is this emotional
exhaustion and emotional exhaustion
is often misunderstood. It's
not physical exhaustion,
it's not mental exhaustion,
but it does lead to those things and even
lead to physical ailment,
but it starts as emotional exhaustion.
The second piece is a general cynicism
of work and,
that's where we start really putting
up barriers between ourselves and
our coworkers and our clients and
if we have employees between
ourselves and our employees,
we have this general sense of cynicism
and we separate ourselves from
our work as much as possible, mentally.
And then the final piece of,
burnout would be a reduced sense of
personal accomplishment. And what that is,
is that we feel like we're turning
our wheels twice as fast and getting
half as much done, or we feel
like we're putting in the effort,
but not getting the reward
and maybe that means
the compensation, dollars
and cents compensation,
or maybe it just means the
recognition or the positive feelings
or whatever it is we're putting
X in and we expect to get Y
out and there's an imbalance there,
which is either real or just
perceived, but either way
it will take you to the brink of burnout.
So as you described all of those three
things, I know that I've been there,
I'm sure you've been there, I'm sure
many of our listeners have been there.
What can business leaders
do to prevent that burnout?
Yeah. Another great question. So,
right. We've all sort of been there,
especially over the past
year and a half. You
know, who hasn't felt extremely cynical,
who hasn't felt emotionally exhausted
as they're trying to learn to
do their job, in a new reality
and, you know, within accounting,
a lot of your work could be done
virtually and a lot of you may
have been already working
but even those individuals didn't
necessarily have their children at
home trying to homeschool their
kids, you know, at the same time,
that's incredibly difficult. There are,
there were incredible
barriers that we made work
harder. And, so there's a lot that can
be done from a leadership perspective,
as well as the individual's perspective.
But the biggest thing that I would
say from the very beginning is
we need to reconnect with
what it is that we do, right?
Like, we need to reconnect
with our proverbial why,
like what is our firm all about,
what is our business all about?
We need to be able to reconnect
with that because that's what
we've gotten away from.
We get so lost in the weeds and
so overwhelmed and distracted that
we lose sight of maybe it's the
client interactions, maybe it's
the mission of the organization,
maybe it's a difference that we're
making and suddenly instead of all
of those things,
it's just spreadsheets on the computer
and it becomes very easy to lose sight
of those other things and so
we need to take away the noise
and create the sense of why again,
and we need to be able to do it in a way
that, brings people,
brings people back mentally and also
gives them a sense of control in
their lives again. Work
during the pandemic,
could have been part of the problem,
or it could have been an
escape from the problem,
depending on how much control
employees felt when they went
to work or virtually signed into work.
If they felt in control of their work,
then when their entire lives
felt out of control work was
the haven where they were still in
control. But if that wasn't the case,
then work was just part of the problem.
So let's dig into that, finding your
why a little bit more, you know,
sometimes people have very mundane jobs,
when you're first starting out in
accounting, you know, sometimes you just,
you know, kind of crunching numbers.
How are people supposed to find meaning
in that work and connect with that why,
if they're so far down?
really interesting. So my first
job, my first real job was,
I was a kennel worker. I wanted
to be a veterinarian and,
turned out that,
to be a bio major pre-veterinary
you needed chemistry and physics.
So I'm like, nope. And ironically,
I switched to the business college
and the very first class I took,
I'm like yes,
I'm getting away from all the math
and the very first class I took was
accounting I. So you gotta be kidding me,
but suddenly when you took moles off
the end of a number and you put a dollar
sign in front of it made
a lot more sense to me.
so my very first job was working in
these kennels and I was pre-veterinary,
I wanted to be a vet and I
remember one day as a young man,
I was literally pooper scooping,
like picking up poop from the floor
of a kennel. And I was doing this,
I was working on alongside a coworker and
I remember looking over and seeing her
face and realizing that the two of
us were doing completely different
jobs, the same exact tasks, but
completely different things.
She was picking up poop. I was,
I was creating a cleaner and safer
environment for these sick animals.
You know, I was caring for animals while
she was cleaning up poop, you know,
and it was just in the mindset.
It was in how we saw our jobs and
when you're in accounting
or any profession,
you have a choice in how you see
the actual why of what you do,
how much you connect with that.
And we typically find
careers where we have some
sort of role model that we look
to somebody that we see that
we're like, yeah that's
what I want from my career.
And there's usually not that much of a
separation between our career and life
outside of our career. We look
for significance in our lives,
we look for significance in our career,
and that might mean something
different to each of us.
Maybe want to make a difference
with the organizational mission.
Maybe you want to be able to, you know,
afford to travel around the world and
work from wherever, whatever it is,
you're looking for
something from your work.
Burnout occurs when you suddenly
don't find that anymore.
When you realize, oh my God,
there's so much bureaucracy and
interpersonal conflict, which by the way,
over the pandemic working
virtually it's like,
how often are we distracted by
the amount of commas that our
coworker uses their emails,
trying to figure out if they're
angry or just crazy, you know,
like we get into these
things that distract us.
So just because elements of our work
does not mean that they are trivial,
right? Just because something is
mundane does not make it trivial.
It is only trivial if we can't
connect the dots to how this
ultimately affects the
final user, the client,
how are we helping our client in the end?
Because while you may be
just crunching numbers in
Excel or working your way through
QuickBooks or whatever you accountants
do, right? To me as my
accountant you're not doing that,
you're helping me and my family
survive and thrive through
and through helping me manage
by my budget and my taxes and my
business. I need that.
And if you can connect with that and
understand the difference you're making in
my life and what that advisory
role means to me as your
that's very different
than just picking up poop.
It's very different than just
putting numbers in a spreadsheet.
That's so true. So if we
take a wider look, you know,
from a leadership perspective. What signs
should leaders be looking for to see,
you know, are my employees
going through a burnout problem?
One of the leading signs of burnout
would be turnover intention.
There are a lot of reports coming
out on turnover intention right now.
I believe just came out with a
study, a global study that suggests
that 41% of employees are looking
to leave their employer
within the next year globally,
41%. That is an incredibly scary number.
Most of the time when leaders
look at intent to turnover
or turnover intention numbers,
they think that's a scary number
because that's going to be an indicator
of how many people leave.
I would argue that the people who
intend to turnover and then leave,
those people are the
least of your worries.
It's the people who intend to turn
over and stay that you should be really
Because we know that turnover
intention is related to burnout
and related to both of those,
is this decrease in productivity
and efficiency. This
increase in toxicity, right?
We know that burnout is
incredibly contagious and so when
you see people are trying
to leave the organization,
but they're handcuffed to the organization
maybe you're paying more than any of
the competitors and you think that's a
great thing because you're holding on to
people, but is it a great thing
if people that want to leave can't
afford to leave. So we need to look
at things like turnover intention.
We need to look at things like increases
in conflict, like people taking
much longer to get back to you,
via email or whatever messaging
services that you use to communicate
with your people.
people who start not showing up,
taking more sick days and also
people who show up, but in body only.
There's a lot of warning signs.
The number one thing leaders
need to do is to listen.
They need to actively listen and when we
go through crises, oftentimes
our reaction to that,
we think that we have
to take action, right?
And we have to do,
but again part of that
burnout recipe is this
loss of control. It's
this learned helplessness,
which is also a leading
precursor to depression, right?
And so what that means is that
our actions don't seem to have
the reactions from the
universe that we expect.
And so we feel helpless,
it's learned helplessness.
So what leaders should be doing is
empowering their people and listening to
as opposed to trying to do all the
talking and the doing, you know,
they really need to be taking the
calls of their people right now.
Yeah, listening seems to be that
key element just for any leader,
are you hearing what your people are
saying? Because if you're not listening,
how can you know what's going on?
And how can you be productive?
And if you're not listening
and burnouts happening,
it's ultimately affecting your bottom
line, but it's also affecting people.
And if the people hurting,
then the business will fail.
So after listening, what's the next
step you take? Cause you're listening,
you're seeing, okay people are burned
out. What do you do after that?
One of the things that you can do,
which I highly recommend is
to set up boundaries. One
of the things that we saw over
the past year and a half is
that, people are really horrible at
setting up their own boundaries, right?
I used to talk about
work-life balance as something
that was a myth that
couldn't exist after the
invention of the iPhone, right? Because,
I mean you take work everywhere with
you as long as your iPhone is in your
pocket and you take family life and all
the other outside elements with you to
work as long as your
iPhone is in your pocket.
And so work-life balance has not been,
an actual, you know,
attainable thing forever.
But especially when
you're working from home,
if you don't have barriers set up
between your home life and your work life,
if you don't have boundaries,
then it's all going to become
intertwined and there's going to be
a lot of stress and
eventual burnout there.
What employers can do,
what managers can do is don't trust your
people to set up these boundaries on
their own and don't trust them to do it
just because you suggest that they do
it, there's a big difference
between, you know,
policy and culture. We can tell
people what the policies are,
that's not what the policies actually
are. How are the policies lived? You know,
so we can tell people, you
need to set up boundaries,
but if we don't push that
and not just push it, but,
live it ourselves,
model it by putting our cell
phone aside between certain hours,
our people are not going to do that
themselves and we know this because the
early data coming out from the past
year and a half is that people have been
longer hours since the
pandemic started. Since
they've been working from home,
they've been putting in more
hours, not less. And so,
and later hours of working into the night.
And so we need to protect
our people from that.
They need that time to
So that is one of the many things
we can do. And then beyond that,
we need to show support.
We know that both emotional support and
also more instrumental support
are extremely important.
You know, being able to support people
by being a sounding board for them,
listening to them when
they're stressed out,
listen to what they have to
tell you, giving them advice,
but also jumping in there and helping
them with their workload if they need it,
helping them figure out, you
know, how to balance things.
All of that is incredibly
important and highly
correlated with burnout. If
people are not getting support,
they're much more likely to burnout.
I'd like to just kind of wrap up our
conversation and if you could just kind of
give your insight of what you think
the long terms effects of this whole
COVID-19, people working from
home and this burnout, what
long-term effects will it have
on the world of work in general?
Yeah. So I think that,
we're already seeing it and what's
being termed the great resignation
that we're looking at these 41%, you know,
some industries are way over that
in terms of turnover intention.
People are looking for
change and, you know,
as somebody who goes into organizations
and helps produce change within
I can tell you that it is a rare day that
people are looking for change. Usually
people will push up against change,
but change came and found us and
we don't want to go back to the
way things used to be.
And so people are looking for change in
their life because they've been able to
reevaluate their lives and their
relationship with work over the past
year and a half. And so I
strongly believe that we are going
to see a lot of turnover and a
lot of churning with employment. Leaders
need to invest in their people now and
when I say invest,
I mean emotionally invest
in their people now.
Give them a reason to come
back and to be productive and
to reengage with work.
And what is that reason?
It depends on your organizational
culture and on the needs and wants
of your employees and only
they hold that ultimate answer.
And so, again,
it comes back to listening
and understanding that
now with so many people going virtual,
you're not just competing
with the firm down the road,
you are competing nationally,
if not internationally,
because so many other firms
have entered your marketplace
because now they are looking to build
fully virtual teams of people that can
work right from your backyard.
And so it's incredibly
important to be investing in the
well-being of our people and to reconnect
with the ultimate meaning,
that meaningfulness of the
work that your organization
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